Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Seneca Creek 50K and B&A 13.1 - You're never over

A lot of icing and a week off from running after the Mid-Maryland 50K allowed my shin to recover pretty completely.  I eased back into running with mostly shorter runs and speed workouts to keep my mileage low that first week back (unlike during previous attempts at recovery).  I actually had some pretty sweet track workouts that week which indicated that I at least haven't lost any speed since the fall (endurance, maybe). 

The next week was the week of the B&A Trail Half Marathon, the single half marathon that I run every year.  This was to be my fifth B&A Half...and I'm pretty sure it's the only half marathon I've ever run.  Usually, I train somewhat through B&A but race it hard after taking a day or two easy beforehand, and every year my time has dropped.  With the injuries and on/off nature of my running the past couple months, I wasn't sure I'd be able to PR again, but figured I'd at least run it hard and see what happened.  B&A was on Sunday.  Six days prior, on Monday, I went out for a workout on tired legs.  It was 15 miles with 3 hard miles in the middle.  My legs were pretty trashed going in to this, so the first 5 miles and last 7 miles were substantially slower than usual, but I did manage 18:29 for those middle 3 miles.  But that was all-out, and last year my first 3 and last 3 miles at B&A were both under 18:20.  I thought my legs would recover a bit throughout the week, but still figured a PR might be a stretch.

Then I was persuaded to sign up for the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K.  It was kind of a tough decision.  Obviously it was tempting because it is a nearby trail ultra with lots of cool people.  CONS: really early Saturday wake-up, potential relapse into injury.  PROS: free for military, cool people, lots of training value if injuries don't flare up.  Of course in the end, the PROS outweighed the CONS and I was getting dressed at 3:45am on Saturday. 

Rain throughout the night on Friday promised muddy trails for the event on Saturday morning.  This was a cool event - nice and low key, but with a great turn-out.  There was a marathon and a 50K which were approximated to be 30 and 34 miles, respectively.  Energy was high in the crowd under the pavilion awaiting the casual 8:00 start.  At the RD's command, the swarm was off down a paved path for about a mile before being introduced to the muddy singletrack on which we would spend the rest of the morning.

I had nixed the idea of saving my legs for the weekend once I decided not to go for the 13.1 PR, so they were feeling pretty heavy.  I was out to have a good time, and I brought my camera along for the run:

Capt. Smith making haste in the early miles
Captain (Mosi) Smith and I ran together for a while and fell into a rhythm.  The trails were indeed muddy, which makes two slippery 50K's in a row now.  This one wasn't quite as bad as Mid-Maryland, and the mud was only bad for the first half and the last few miles - but I'm hoping this trend doesn't continue for Hat Run in a few weeks.  In any case, the mud is still a lot of fun.  Within a few miles, though, the best shoe-cleaning opportunity of the race came with a nice stream crossing.

The weather was actually pretty nice - overcast, but not raining and not cold.  In some of those early-middle miles, I tried picking up my pace a couple times to see how it felt, but I definitely didn't have it in my legs, so I just stayed calm and took in the trail.  Soon enough, I got to the aid station by the lake, where the "marathoners" continued down the trail and the "50Kers" took a tour around the lake. It was about two hours in and I was comfortable, but during that lake loop I started feeling it a bit.  So when I got to the aid station, I shoved a bunch of stuff into my mouth, saw some salt pills and took those, and filled up my bottle.  All that helped me for a few miles, but somewhere around mile 22 I entered a relatively low point.  It wasn't terrible, but I definitely slowed down.  Then, after a couple miles, I started taking short walk breaks up some of the little hills.   Again, not a terribly low point, as I remember running pretty strong for a mile or so during which I passed some spectators who said I was at mile 26. 

I was running decently, but tired, when I got to the second-to-last aid station.  This one had lots of good cookies and stuff, which I enjoyed.  Out of curiosity, I asked one of the vollies there what mile I was at.  He said, "We think this is about 22 miles if you're in the marathon, and there are about 7 miles to go."  Loved that response. 

There was about 4 miles to the last aid station, and then 2.5 or so to the finish.  Here is where I hit a legitimately low point, and re-learned something that I've already been taught multiple times in this sport.  I left the aid station slowly and was quickly reduced to walking through some exceptionally muddy sections.  The 4 miles until the next aid station seemed incredibly long.  I was beginning to pity myself and I felt like I couldn't run another step.  I was just out there to have a good time and take it easy; why was I feeling like this?  I hoped that I could do a walk/shuffle combo and cover those 4 miles in 45 minutes or so. 

Then I realized...I've been here before.  I've felt this, and much worse.  And if there's one basic thing that those experiences have taught me, it's that you're never over.  These things pass...just be patient, walk if you have to, and stop feeling sorry for yourself.  You're never over, and you know it.

That was some of my self-talk, I guess.  That, combined with a little bit of almost-done-so-just-get-this-over-with adrenaline, had me running strong for another two miles to the last aid station, and then 2 or 3 after that to the finish.  Those last 4 or 5 miles were definitely my fastest and strongest of the day.  Weird how that works.

I made a quick stop at that last aid station and got out quick when they said it was just two miles to go (was definitely more).  I was at 4:41:something, and I thought maybe a sub-5 hour time was possible.  I ran hard all the way to the finish, except for the steep little hill right after that aid station, and came across in 4:59:49.

That felt like a very good run and (most of) it was a lot of fun.  As I said before, there were a lot of great people to hang out with afterward.  Jackie, Alan, and Steve came down from Delaware, David and Meg came from Baltimore, and of course Capt Smith and Mitch (my carpool) from Annapolis. 

A full day in great company on muddy trails

The best news about this 50K was that none of my injuries flared up at all.  My shin and ankle felt perfectly fine the entire time.  And as an added bonus, I didn't chafe or get any blisters, either.

To get the full training value of the weekend, the next day was the B&A Trail Half Marathon with the team.  My legs were definitely sore, but I was happy with a very evenly paced 1:29:02.  Like last year, the first and last 3 miles were strikingly similar: 20:11 and 20:09, respectively.  I also had the privilege of running in the last half mile or so with my mom, who finished her first half marathon with impressive but not surprising strength.

All in all, I was very happy with the weekend.  With my first race of the year (race race, that is) coming up in a few weeks at HAT Run, this weekend showed me that I've still got some good fitness despite all those weeks off.  As long as I stay healthy now, I should be well on my way back into racing shape, and maybe even good for a marathon PR if I decide to go for one at Boston.  


  1. Good read. I hope you're ready for our workout tomorrow.

  2. Hey Mike, I found your blog off the Ultra list. I thought I recognized your name from Dave's facebook posts. I lived up in Baltimore for a few years and having now been living in NC since last summer, I have to say, I DO miss the running scene, particularly the ultra scene up there. So many races like the ones you described, and so many cool people. Nice job last weekend, hope those injuries continue to remain at bay!

    1. It really is a's been a bit of a rocky first couple months of the year, but I think the injuries are gone as long as I stay smart.

      I think I read an extremely impressive 12-hour RR from you on the list? Huge congrats!